Blueberry Buckle

I’ve made this recipe several times – I originally got it out of my Anna Olsen cookbook – Sugar.  It is also available on the Food Network Canada website.  It’s a great coffee cake type dessert.  I love using yummy fresh blueberries for this, though frozen, thawed blueberries work fine as well.

Ingredients:

Cake:

1/2 cup unsalted room temperature butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups all purpose flour

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup milk

2 cups blueberries

Streusel Topping:

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup flour

1/2 tsp cinnamon

3 tbsp unsalted butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream together butter and sugar until pale and creamy.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Add alternately with milk until incorporated.  Spread batter into 9 inch springform pan and spread evenly.  Sprinkle blueberries on top.

In a small bowl, blend together sugar flour and cinnamon for Streusel.  Cut in butter with your fingers until crumbly and no large bits of butter are left. Sprinkle on top of berries.

Bake for 45-50 minutes – cool before serving.

 

Another thing that I do, and I believe that Anna used it as the switch up in her cookbook, was to add a cream cheese layer.  I used a block of softened cream cheese beaten and mix in a bit of sugar and vanilla, and spread in between the blueberries and the streusel.  I would up the baking time if you do this by about 10 minutes, but still check with a tester in the middle for doneness.

This will keep in an airtight container for a few days.  It’s great with a scoop of really good vanilla ice cream, or a dollop of homemade sweetened whipped cream.  Don’t forget your cup of tea or coffee.

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Grilled Fruit Kabobs

A few years ago now, we decided to have a dinner completely on the grill.  We grilled up all kinds of yummy savory things – sausages, stuffed peppers, etc etc etc.  But what to do for dessert?  My buddy Renee solved that problem with these fruit kabobs.

In this hot summer heat, we usually try to cook dinner on the grill to help keep the kitchen cool.  But what about when you’re having company, and want to make something impressive for dessert?  You can have a no-bake option, there are plenty of those.  You can fire up the oven and defeat the purpose of keeping the heat down.  Or, you can have your dessert off the grill like the rest of your meal.

Many fruits grill up beautifully.  The little bit of char from the grill combines wonderfully with the natural sugars of the fruit.  Fruit that is normally sweet gets that much sweeter when cooked over a fire.

You’ll want to use fruit that will stand up to the grill and the heat.  Raspberries and such are not recommended.  You’ll lose them for sure.  Great fruits for grilling are pineapple, peaches, strawberries, melons, even bananas.  Go crazy, use your favourites.  The little treat in between the fruit makes it that much better.  Get yours before they’re gone!

Ingredients:

2-3 different kinds of your favourite fruits, cut into chunks, about 1 inch.

1/2 to 1 loaf french bread, cut into cubes roughly the size of the fruit.

1 cup cinnamon sugar – use 1 cup granulated sugar, mixed with 1 tsp. ground cinnamon – you might not need this much, but you can save the rest for other uses.  It’s great sprinkled on buttered toast.

1/2 cup (or more if needed) melted sweet butter

A bunch of wooden skewers soaked in water for 15 minutes or so, or metal ones, whichever is fine.

Directions:

Simply roll each piece of bread in the melted butter and then cinnamon sugar.  Put the fruit on the skewers, leaving some room on one end for turning.  For every two pieces of fruit, put one piece of bread on.

Clean your grill to get all the remnants of supper off.  Lay a piece of foil over the grill at one end for the ends of the skewers to hang over so they don’t burn.  Grill the kabobs over low heat, turning as necessary.  It’s okay to get a few grill marks on the fruit and bread, but be careful, with the high sugar content these can burn easily.  There is nothing to cook through here, you’re just heating them up, getting things going.  The bread becomes candy like – it’s delicious!

These are delicious with a bowl of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt, a nice fruit sorbet, or simply a big blob of Cool Whip or whipped cream to dip in.

Be sure to make lots, the average is 2-3 kabobs per person.

Enjoy!

Room – Book Review

I had really been looking forward to reading the book Room by Emma Donoghue.  There has been a lot of hype surrounding this book, but I’ve been waiting for the paperback to come out to read it.  Or the Kindle edition.  Well it turned out that the Kindle edition was almost as expensive as the paperback – damn you Harper Collins – so the paperback it was.

The story is centered around and is from the point of view of Jack.  Jack is a five year old boy who was born and has been raised in “Room” an 11×11 foot windowless space with a small kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, etc.  The skylight is the only glimpse into the outside world.  Jack lives here with Ma, and has never set foot outside, and has absolutely no idea that there is anything outside of Room.

As the story progresses, we learn the situation as it happened through Jack’s eyes.  Jack sleeps in a wardrobe every night, where his Ma has him stay in case “Old Nick” comes to visit.  They have a television, but Ma limits Jack’s viewing of it to an hour or so a day.  She reads to him, teaches him things, has strict mealtimes, phys ed time, etc.  Her love for her son and her determination to make the best of this horrifying situation for his sake is obvious.

The story begins on Jack’s 5th Birthday.  It is at this point that Ma seems to realize that she needs to get herself and Jack out of this hell and comes up with an escape plan.  Her plan depends largely on Jack’s bravery and is extremely desperate, but never has there been such an example of “desperate times call for desperate measures.”

As you can imagine, to a boy who has known nothing but this isolation, the hardest part is not living in Room, but leaving it.  Coming to terms that the people and things that he has seen on television are actually real.  That there is a whole world that exists Outside.  A big chunk of this book concentrates on his integration into the outside world, which can be tough to read at times.  Very hard to wrap your head around.

I enjoyed this book.  I’m not surprised about all the hype it has received, it was very good, and I would recommend it highly.  It has taken a story that is truly horrific and unfathomable if it had been told my the mother, and shown it through younger, innocent eyes.  Strangely enough this makes it easier to read, we get snippits of the mother’s story, as opposed to the full blown terror that she was living.  It’s very effective, though at times I got a bit lost in the childish monologue, and had to re-read certain parts to make sure I understood properly.

Very good, worth the wait.  4.5/5 stars for me.

Taco Salad

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the many milestones that occur this year in my husbands’ family.  Several birthdays, my in-law’s 40th wedding anniversary, etc.  There was quite a bit of food, and my sister-in-law Jennifer’s friend Sarah brought this delicious taco salad.  I made sure to get the recipe from her so I could try it myself.

I had never been much of a taco salad person.  I think I ordered it once in a restaurant when I was younger.  But this is a great recipe, though I imagine not much different than the other recipes floating around out there.

I made it this weekend, and it was so good.  If you’ve never tried it, you should definitely take a stab at it.  I guarantee the bowl will be empty before you know it!

Makes 1 very large bowl.

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground beef

1 pkg. taco seasoning

1 head lettuce – I used romaine – chopped and washed

1/2 green pepper, finely diced

2 green onions, sliced

1-2 tomatoes, diced

1-2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 bag of corn chips, or tortillas – I like the scoop kind for some reason

1 bottle Thousand Island dressing

Directions:

In a skillet, brown ground beef, and add taco seasoning, according to package instructions.  Set aside to cool, refrigerate until completely chilled.

In a large bowl, combine lettuce, green pepper, green onions, tomatoes, cheese and hamburger.  Crumble chips into large chunks, and add to salad.

Add bottle of dressing, and combine completely.  Store covered in fridge until ready to serve.

This is great even the next day, you can throw some fresh chips in for crunch and a bit more dressing.

I have a friend that uses Catalina dressing instead, that would be good too.

If you wanted, you could fancy it up slightly by plating each serving separately, and line the outside of each serving with large restaurant style chips, garnishing with fresh tomato, green onions and cheese, making it a main course.

This is great as a side, to take to a potluck or barbeque, or really, it can be a meal in itself.

Enjoy!

Harry Potter – The End of an Era

Warner Bros.

Last night I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. As we have for each movie in the past, we were there opening night (regrettably not for the midnight showings), and sat in line for 3 hours in order to get a seat right at the back.
Let me start off by saying, this movie was amazing. In my opinion, it was the best movie in the series without a doubt. It was so good. I have always felt that though they were good, the movies never quite measured up to the books. This one came the closest. I always love the book better than the movie, and Deathly Hallows was my favourite in the series. This movie did the best job in the series of doing justice to the book. Most of the special, most important things in the book were represented in the movie. I cried in the movie during the parts that made me cry in the book. I thought that the trio, Dan Radcliffe in particular, have really grown into themselves and developed their acting skills. Ralph Finnes was superb as Lord Voldemort as usual, and Maggie Smith rocked Professor McGonagall even more than ever before. I cried at the end simply because it was the end.

Joe and I were talking on the way home from the movie last night. I was saying how privileged I felt to have been a part of the Harry Potter experience, almost right from the start. When I first started reading the books, Goblet of Fire (book 4) had just come out. I hadn’t really heard of this Harry Potter thing before that. I started with book one, and devoured two, three and four very quickly. I waited with the rest of the world for the rest of the books. I got so excited when they finally started making movies and showing them in the theatre. To me, the book releases were the most exciting, and I loved going to Chapters at midnight to be one of the first to get a copy. When Deathly Hallows was released, we were on vacation at the lake and I made Joe come with me and we drove all the way back into London to be there. I tried to pace myself but couldn’t, and spent the weekend being incredibly anti-social, reading by the pool, with everyone looking at me like I was an idiot as I blubbered my way through the chapter where Harry goes out to the forest.

At least when the books were done, there were still a few movies to look forward to. I think that’s why I was so emotional last night. Until now, there was always something more to look forward to. Now there’s nothing. It’s done. No more book releases. No more opening nights. Nothing new. I am looking forward to Pottermore, JK Rowling’s new website that will have tons of Potter content, as well as loads of new stuff. But it won’t be the same. It will never be the same.

That’s why I said that I felt so privileged to be a part of it. Someday, if Nicholas’ love of reading develops as I hope it does, he may read the Harry Potter books himself. Maybe he’ll want me to read them with him. Either way, he will definitely be exposed to the series. But he won’t experience the excitement that I have been fortunate enough to be a part of. He’ll be able to finish one book and pick up the next, without the agonizing wait. I know there may be other series, other phenomenons, but there will never be another Harry Potter. So many kids that never normally used to read have picked up books and read because of this series. So many adults that never read have done the same. It has made a worldwide impact like no other. All ages. Our group alone last night ranged in age from 29 to 66. And the range of the people at the theatre was larger even than that. Young or old, there is obviously something for everyone.

I am fortunate enough to have a friend that really gets it. Karen and I have been friends since high school, and she has been to the book releases with me, sat with me in line at the theatre, cried with me at the end. She and I texted back and forth all day yesterday because we were both so excited about the movie. She has read the books. She knows. Our significant others don’t. Her boyfriend has read some of the books. Joe hasn’t read any. They don’t get it. Not like we do. I’m so glad I have one person that understands. It may sound corny, but it’s true.

I can only hope that Nicholas will be caught up in a whirlwind that even slightly measures up to Harry Potter. I hope that he experiences the excitement for something like that. I will love to see the day when he drags me to Chapters at midnight (though I probably won’t need to be dragged) to get a first copy of a new book that is out. To see him excited about a book would make my day as a parent like few other things could.

So yesterday I said farewell to Harry Potter. Though I doubt it’s goodbye forever. I still have the books on my shelf, waiting to be re-read someday very soon. I still have the movie collection that will be complete when this one comes out on DVD. There is also the theme park that I need to get to soon. The magic of Harry Potter will never die, it will remain a classic and a joy for many generations to come. I can see myself sitting on a porch at age 70, retired, re-reading the series for the 100th time.

To all my fellow muggles who shed a tear last night as well, I get it, and am glad there are so many others that do.

Sarah’s Key – Book Review

I have been looking forward to reviewing this book ever since I finished reading it.  Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay was definitely one of the best books I have read in a long time.

There is a duel storyline in this book.  The first takes place in July of 1942 in Paris.  Sarah, a ten year old girl, is brutally arrested along with her family.  I had heard about the roundups in history by the Nazis, but I did not know that this particular roundup was actually conducted by the French police, on orders from the Nazis.  The Jewish people arrested were taken to Vel’ d’ Hiv’ – a stadium, and made to live there under brutal conditions for days, before being moved to concentration camps outside of Paris, and eventually on to Auschwitz.

Sarah didn’t really know too much about what was going on, and thinking she would be back in a couple of hours, she locked her four year old brother in a secret cupboard.

The other storyline in the book is in 2002, around Julia, a journalist originally from America, who has been living in Paris with her husband for the last 25 years.  They have a daughter as well.  On the 60th anniversary of Vel’ d’ Hiv’,  Julia is given an assignment to write a story on the roundup, and the aftermath.  Upon doing  a bit of research, she finds out that the apartment that she, her husband and daughter are renovating to move in to, which has been in her husbands’ family for many years, is the very apartment that Sarah was taken from when she was ten, and the place of the  unthinkable fate of her brother.

Julia decides to dig deeper into the history and find out about Sarah, becoming slightly obsessed with finding out what happened, and trying in a sense to make up for it.  The story follows her journey and we learn of Sarah’s as well.

There really aren’t any happy endings in this book to be honest.  Things aren’t perfect at the end, but you get the sense that everything is going to be okay.

I read this book in a couple of days, and probably would have finished it quicker, but life gets in the way sometimes, as we all know.  Some of the images in this book are still with me.  I will remember the details of this one for a long time to come.

5/5 stars.  Loved it.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Book Review

I’ve asked people – have you ever heard of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot?  For every time I have asked that question, I get looked at like I’ve got three heads.

When I first heard about this book, I thought it was fiction.  I had no idea about what HeLa cells were or how they have changed the face of modern medicine.  Now I do, and I’m so glad I’ve read this book.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor mother of five, a black tobacco farmer from the south, who died in 1951 of cancer that started in her cervix, and ended up spreading throughout her body, taking over and killing her very quickly.  Of course at that time, the radiation treatment that was used was brutal, and the last few months of her life were horribly painful.

Unbeknownst to Henrietta or her family, before she died, some of her cells were taken from her cervix.  This was back in the time before it was necessary to tell patients that they were using their cells for research.  Before Henrietta’s cells, they were not able to make any stay alive for more than a few days.  With hers, not only did they stay alive, but they thrived, growing and growing, and allowing scientists to use them to do huge amounts of research on several diseases, including cancer and AIDS, as well as create the polio vaccine.  Her cells have been in outer space as well, taken up with astronauts.

All this went on without the knowledge of her family.  This book covers the life and death of Henrietta, as well as the authors discovery of HeLa cells, what they were and the fact that there was a woman behind them with a family.  It goes through the research process and the meetings she had with the family, particularly Deborah, Henrietta’s younger daughter, who longed to learn more about her mother and her older sister Elsie, who was sent away to an institution and died shortly after Henrietta did.

The family story is actually quite sad, and there is quite a bit of emphasis on how they never received any compensation for the use of their mothers cells.  It’s actually quite sad that the family of the woman who unknowingly changed the face of medicine, is unable to afford to go and see a doctor.

Very interesting, an enjoyable, fairly quick read.